The African Union (AU) in its Agenda 2063 had as one of its aspirations, an intention to silence guns by 2023, however, it shifted this promise to 2030.
Sadly, guns are still blazing in some parts of Africa (South Sudan, Sudan, Mali, Somalia, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, DRC). If the reality on the ground is anything to go by, silencing the guns by 2030 or even by 2063 seems to be a pie in the sky and just a mere aspiration for the AU.
This is because of coups and other forms overt and indirect violence which are actually intensifying especially in the Western region of Africa. The Western region of Africa comprises the following countries; Guinea-Bissau, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Nigeria, Guinea, Benin, Burkina Faso, Togo, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Cabo Verde and Cameroon. It is the intent of this opinion piece to interrogate conflict prevention and coups in Africa, given that a coup has just happened in Niger.
In the wake of the coup in Niger the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) has given the military coup leaders a week to give back power to the captured president of Niger or face a possible military intervention from ECOWAS.
To that effect, Mali and Guinea Bissau have openly intimated that an attack on Niger will be an attack on them. Mali and Guinea Bissau are standing with the military coup leaders in Niger like white on rice.
The military coup leaders seem to have a critical mass of the population of Niger siding with them. One wonders if ECOWAS is coming as an outsider without a message, the citizens of Niger have their lived struggles to share and these lived experiences border on corruption, mineral leakages, foreign interference, misgovernance, illicit commerce and human rights violations.
To that effect, the citizens of Niger have stepped up to the plate by demonstrating in support of the coup in the capital Niamey. The Citizens of Niger regard ECOWAS as an outsider without a message, they are the only ones who feel what they feel because of the misgovernance they have been experiencing at the hands of the deposed leadership.
To the people of Niger, ECOWAS represents status-quo-ers, a system that identifies with the status quo and the state without necessarily identifying with a critical mass of a people whose dreams and aspirations have been quashed by those who have had the power and arrogance of incumbency.
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The writers of this opinion piece would want to submit that the African continental and sub-continental blocs are poor at conflict prevention and somehow good at conflict management. Despite the AU having the African Peace Security Architecture (APSA) anchored on the following pillars, the Panel of the Wise (PoW), Continental Early Warning System (CEWS), African Standby Force (ASF) and the Peace Fund (PF).
The APSA pillars are by and large meant to prevent conflict in Africa but the whole infrastructure comes without any meaningful budgets to operationalise peacebuilding and peacemaking.
The AU has been described by some scholars as being made up of resolutionaries and not revolutionaries because of its tendency of making a gamut of resolutions that do not even see the light of the day, the agenda 2063 could be another one. Good plans need a budget, a budget is a management tool.
What ECOWAS is doing now in Niger is not conflict prevention but conflict management. Conflict management is trying to de-escalate a conflictual situation and it usually leads to negative peace, in other words it is reactionary as compared to being proactive. Prevention is four times better that rehabilitation. It is always advisable to spend in order to serve.
Coups, civil wars and armed conflicts can be prevented if African leaders respond timeously to early warning signs regarding matters affecting human security like illicit financial flows (illicit commerce), disarticulated economy, poverty, unemployment, inequalities, corruption, human rights violations, discrimination, hate speech, pernicious polarisation, politics of patronage, extractive economies, ungoverned spaces, skewed distribution of resources and political violence.
Nothing happens without having sent out signals to the world, what has happened in Niger cannot be defined in terms of an event but in terms of a process. As this process was panning out, one may need to ask where UN, AU and ECOWAS have been?
There were signs already in Niger of people who were not happy about the insecurity and stagnation of the economy, the heavy presence of foreign military troops and bases and the interference of France in Niger in a bid to protect its investments in the mining sector, the legitimacy and ethnicity of the deposed leader.
The above context and dynamics have been there for UN, AU and ECOWAS to try to resolve in good time.
Coups will remain a permanent feature in Africa even beyond 2023 unless their underlying root causes or structural causes and drivers like poverty, inequalities, unemployment, corruption, culture of violence, political economy, ethnic, religion and region-based politics and neocolonialism are addressed through conflict prevention efforts.
The arbitrary borders of Africa have also been a great cause for concern and have created fertile grounds for civil wars and armed conflicts. What Niger is experiencing can be experienced by any other country in Africa because the context and dynamics that breed and feed into coups obtain in many African countries.
Most African countries have negative peace, which is the mere absence of war and other forms of overt violence. African countries must strive for positive peace, which seeks to eliminate the underlying structural causes of conflict due to different forms of injustices, social neglect and human insecurity.
The danger of negative peace is that it is peace just waiting for triggers to ignite into war and other forms like overt violence that include coups. Aiming towards merely silencing guns is aspiring for negative peace which is not even good enough.
Thus, if Africa is serious about silencing guns by 2030 or beyond, it must be more proactive in its approach and should start by dealing with negative peace which is mostly associated with insensitivity to human security and other challenges associated with it.